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Lecturers in 20 colleges across Scotland have now taken four days of national strike action over the refusal of Colleges Scotland to honour a national bargaining deal on pay and conditions that was reached in March 2016 after a one day national strike.

The deal was supposed to end £12,000 pay disparity between the lowest and highest paid lecturers and harmonise conditions.

As well as four days of national strike action, there has been a mass lobby of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish government Further Education (FE) minister, Shirley Anne Sommerville’s constituency office in Fife has been lobbied and several hundred EIS members rallied in Glasgow’s George Square on the 3rd May. EIS members have also been on high streets collecting signatures for their #honourthedeal petition online here

FE lecturers are on programme of continuing strike action following a 96% vote in favour of strike action. Unless talks prove acceptable to the union, another nine days of strike action is planned. The strike has been solid with big turnouts at picket lines across the country.

According to EIS FELA, management are seeking to implement, over several years, an increase in class contact time of 24 hours plus two hours of cover. This would lead to a maximum of 880 hours in a year and cut the amount of annual leave for lecturers.

Colleges Scotland are trying to reduce “prep time”, when already lecturers take home a lot of work (in reality another pay cut). Due to the massive cuts in college funding by the Scottish government this puts more and more pressure on lecturers. Forcing full time staff to take additional hours also effects temporary staff who could lose jobs or become “bank lecturers” – effectively on zero hour contracts.

PR spin

An EIS FELA rep at Glasgow Kelvin East End told us, “The union has uncovered the fact the employers have hired a PR firm at £10k per week to apply their “spin” in the press. Reports in the media, particularly on the BBC, have focused on lecturers taking strike action over holiday entitlement and when a 9% pay increase has been agreed. For the majority of lecturers it is 0-6% over three years. Some members have been underpaid for years, up to £12,000 a year. The attack to holiday entitlement is a cut in colleagues hourly rate due to the additional hours worked.”

Many students realise this strike is also about quality of learning and have supported the EIS action. Students Unions at North Lanarkshire College and Glasgow Clyde College joined picket lines and have organised meetings where strikers speak to students. Socialist Students has full backed the strike. Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) supporters and candidates are involved organising the strike and have joined picket lines.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), in power in Holyrood (the seat of the devolved parliament) has been saying they will pay lecturers fairly and agree to national bargaining since 2011. Why do they not then intervene decisively and make Colleges Scotland honour the deal?

Under pressure, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, admitted the dispute is not about pay but terms and conditions and contact time and called on Colleges Scotland to “go the extra mile”.

Increasingly college workers are angry as the SNP government tries to separate itself from the dispute saying national bargaining is an issue for the union and the employers. Many are saying on social media they will now longer vote for the SNP.

Management are also trying to pressure college support staff to undermine the EIS action. A Unison FE committee rep told the Socialist, “With advice from Colleges Scotland, college management tried to impose local strike policies whereby all staff were required to sign in on strike days, suspend annual leave/special leave and anyone reporting sick absence was required to produce a medical certificate.

Unison of course protested. At first local stewards challenged this at individual colleges. City of Glasgow College then retracted the signing in for support staff and agreed no sanction on annual leave/special leave after Unison stewards challenged the local strike policy.

Unison advised collective grievances at all colleges and wrote to Shirley Anne Somerville, FE Minister: “We stewards at City of Glasgow College said we would take the sickness absence thing on a case-by-case basis and issue individual grievances if it came to it. I am hearing other colleges have also retracted the signing in and suspension of leave. We also advised members not to cover/supervise classes if requested to. I am actively investigating this very issue from yesterday and issued further guidance to our members today. I have advised members to speak with non-members to join up and get the support of the union when refusing to supervise students which is a lecturer’s duty”  

Socialist Party Scotland fully supports the struggle of the FE lecturers and all college staff and students for fully publicly funded education and decent contracts.

A mass fightback is needed against the business model in colleges and education linked with the fights against cuts and privatisation across the public sector. EIS should urgently look at calling a national demonstration if the dispute is not resolved quickly. Coordinated national action is needed by the trade unions, especially with Sottish Unison council workers balloting to take strike action for fair pay.     

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